Most men will experience some degree of hair loss during their lives- many have no wish to take any action, but some may opt to seek treatment. So, what causes male pattern baldness and what can be done to prevent or reverse it?
The scalp skin normally changes testosterone to another hormone called dihydrotestosterone. In balding men it seems that the hair follicles become too sensitive to this hormone and react by shrinking over time. Normally a single hair should last around 3 years, but as hair follicles shrink, the hairs become thinner and shed more often, until they get so short and thin that they no longer grow out through the skin.
At first, the hair recedes or thins around the temples, while also becoming thinner on the top of the head. These areas of hair loss get bigger and join up, leaving a patch of hair at the front of the head, which over time also becomes thinner. Often a narrow band of hair will be left around the back and sides of the head, though this too can be lost, leading to complete baldness. The length of time it takes to go bald varies widely between men- from just a few years to more than twenty years.
Treating Hair Loss
Obviously, for some men, becoming bald may cause concerns relating to physical appearance. But there are some treatments that may help. Finasteride (Propecia) is a prescription medication that works by blocking the change from testosterone to dihydrotestosterone. The size of the hair follicles then increases which helps hair growth. Somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 6 men who take Finasteride get enough hair regrowth to make this medication worth using. It can take about 4 months to see noticeable results, though it can take up to 2 years to achieve the full effect. If the medication is stopped, the baldness will return. Side effects are uncommon, but some men may report a lower sex drive.
Other options include Minoxidil (often branded as Regaine or Rogaine)- this is a lotion available over-the-counter from pharmacies that is applied to the scalp. It is not clear if it is particularly effective, but it may prevent further hair loss in the early stages of baldness. It does not seem to cause much regrowth. Aside from these medications, some men may consider the option of hair transplant surgery.
If hair loss seems to be happening in a pattern different to that described above (for example very rapid, widespread or patchy hair loss) it is worth speaking to a doctor, as there may be a more unusual cause at play, requiring investigation and potentially different treatment.
For more information about hair loss, speak to your GP.